Fiona Reid bares all

15 Apr

Fiona Reid sat down on a couch in the drama council office of her alma matter, Lawrence Park in uptown Toronto.   Wearing a sensible blouse and trousers, it’s hard to believe Reid will be starring in Toronto’s production of Calendar Girls, based on the major motion picture.  Reid was at her old high school a couple of months ago to teach an acting workshop to senior-level drama students.

Fiona Reid stars in Calendar Girls.

Reid’s childhood and personality was a major factor in her development from an awkward girl who liked to show off and imitate people into an actress. “I thought in a way my awkwardness would militate against me becoming an actress because I felt somewhat socially awkward and I thought that I was a bit too loud and voluble to be an actress, but I did enjoy performing,” said Reid.

Reid regarded acting as a way to compliment her personality and insecurities. “When I was growing up, we moved a lot to different countries in the world because my father was a doctor in the British military.  I had a lively imagination because I didn’t have that kind of security or underpinnings that you have when you live in the same place for a long time,” says Reid.  Born in Kent, England, her family didn’t settle down in Canada till she was 12.

When Reid was in high school at Lawrence Park, there were no drama classes. She wanted to be part of the Drama Club and the school productions badly, but ironically never made it.  Her teachers saw her penchant to perform and supplied her with oral essays and debates to express her dramatic creativity.  She admits to mimicking her teachers in high school, and was applauded by a her teacher for imitating the teacher’s mannerisms so precisely.

Reid was inspired to become an actress by numerous factors.  “I remember being quite young and there being a pantomime and they asked people at the end to go up on stage and I remember of just thinking of it as such a magic place.  I really wanted to go up on stage and be on that side of the lights, but I didn’t have the nerve,” says Reid with a chuckle.

Reid went on to study at McGill University, and was finally was able to perform.  “I felt that I had found a family when I did finally get into a play.  I never really looked back after that,” says Reid, and her film credits are proof of that.  She starred as Cathy King in the television series, King of Kensington, My Big Fat Greek Wedding and numerous other television series and films.

Reid is a permanent fixture in Canadian theatre, having performed at every stage in Canada under the sun as well as the Shaw and Stratford Festivals.

“I have a need to act and be in plays.  I am still somewhat afraid of it and need to develop that aspect of myself,” said Reid.  Looking back on an extremely successful theatrical career, Fiona Reid proves that one can find success in a career in the arts.  Having never had to sacrifice her passions and desire to act on stage, she appreciates the fact that she has the opportunity to inspire the next generation of actors through the classes she teaches and continues to act on stage.  She adds, “I just feel really lucky that I earn a living doing something I love.”

Calendar Girls premieres on Friday, April 15 at the Royal Alexandra Theatre.


Nail trends for Spring

15 Apr

This spring, colours are everywhere.  It’s time to ditch muddy and dark hues and sport light and fun colours on your digits.  Last year, Essie’s “Mint Candy Apple” had its time under the sun for being the cult nail colour of the season.  This year, light green and blue hues get an update with Chanel’s Riva nail polish.

Chanel nailpolish in Riva. Available at Holt Renfrew or online.

 Another big trend in nails this season are patterns and textures.  OPI has come out with a ground breaking, or shattering, new product called OPI Black Shatter.  After putting on a base coat of another colour, apply the black shatter product and watch the thick black layer shrink before your eyes in unique, one-of-a-kind patterns.

Nail polish from the OPI Katy Perry collection with Black Shatter on top.

Here’s a tutorial created by yours truly on how to achieve unique newspaper print nails that are perfect for budding journalists or bloggers.

Newspaper print nails

There are no “Black Swans” at the Academy of Ballet and Jazz

15 Apr

The music starts, and young girls in light blue leotards waltz and do their pas de bourées. The teacher, Nadia Veselova-Tencer counts, “Five, six, seven, go!” And the dancers run out of the circle. Tencer gets off her stool and walks over to the large, old-fashioned stereo, turns off the music and shows them how to move their arms. Tencer lifts her right arm up in a graceful arch, as her feet delicately step off the ground. “You are very slow,” she says, sticking out her tongue.  Some students giggle, others look away. “One more time and you go home,” Tencer adds. This time, their arms move in sync with their footwork. As the girls file out of the room, they curtsy and bow.

Nadia Veselova-Tencer. Courtesy of the Academy of Ballet and Jazz

The discipline taught at ballet schools benefits more than slouchy posture. Ballet has a strict regimen and lifestyle, and there is fierce competition. Jealousy and insecurity can lead a young ballerina to do nasty things to further her career, like cutting the ribbons off another girl’s ballet shoes. But when that event occurred over 20 years ago at the Academy of Ballet and Jazz, Tencer, the artistic director and teacher, asked the dancer to leave the school. Tencer’s attitude and approach in teaching ballet has created a nurturing environment where dancers can learn the art of ballet without being tainted by envy.

The Academy of Ballet and Jazz, located in Thornhill, has been teaching girls (and boys) a variety of dance styles, even hip hop, for 22 years. However, ballet is still the focus of the school. Recently, ballet has been under the spotlight because of the film, Black Swan.  The students are rehearsing for their annual year end performance, this year it’s Thumbelina and Coppelia. Dancers in advanced classes perform the Nutcracker every year with the Canadian Ballet Theatre. This company is based at the school, and receives no governmental funding. The benefit to the students is that they can perform alongside professionals from around the world, exposing them to opportunity and experience.

Students are exposed to the Russian method of ballet called the Vaganova syllabus, known for its discipline and beauty. The classic style is named after Agrippina Vaganova, a ballerina who was a teacher at the Vaganova Ballet School in the early 1900s.

At six years old, Tencer went to the Kirov ballet with her mother to see a performance of the Stone Flower, which sparked her passion for dance. Her mother let her audition and was accepted at the age of 10 into the Vaganova Ballet School.  There, she was taught by Alla Osipenko, coincidentally the same ballerina dancing the Stone Flower.

Tencer with Alla Osipenko. Courtesy of the Academy of Ballet and Jazz.

Tencer’s ballet studio is like any other, with pink walls and ballet barres, sprung floors to avoid impact and injuries and long, mirrored walls that line the south wall of the classroom. The majority of students come from Toronto, but some dancers move from the United States to attend classes. Tencer’s classes are limited, so she can focus on the quality of instruction instead of the quantity of students.  Tencer says, “It’s not a bagel shop where I get more bagels and I sell them.”

Take a look at the video above by clicking the link to YouTube to see Tencer teach ballet classes.

Tencer believes that to become a good dancer, it takes a combination of goodwill, potential and hard work. While a dancer might not have the ballet body with long limbs, arched feet and slim hips, training is important. Helen Luzius’ daughter Tatiana Davies, 16, is enrolled in classes at the school.  Luzius says, “The crazy Russian method is almost abusive. Are they more driven? It might be too much for the recreational dancer.” Luzius enrolled her daughter in ballet classes to improve flexibility for skating but Davies fell in love with ballet, and eventually quit skating to pursue dance and train with Tencer, and Canadian prima ballerina, Evelyn Hart.

Evelyn Hart as Giselle. Courtesy of Evelyn Hart.

Hart says she has a hands-on approach to teaching ballet.  She helps aspiring dancers find their balletic vocabulary within their physical abilities. However, Tencer doesn’t single out or favour anyone. But some dancers have critiqued the school for not giving corrections to improve their dancing.

One of those dancers, Crystal Clackett, has been at the school for only a few months. She toured last summer with the Balleto di Lombardia in Italy and graduated from the Quinte Ballet School in Belleville, Ont. Clackett sat down in the waiting room, leaning her head against the yellow painted walls that are plastered with pictures of Tencer and other dancers, awards, and selected newspaper clippings showing off the calibre of the school. Out of breath from two hours of class, Clackett fixes stray hairs into her sleek chignon and complains in a soft-spoken voice that she wishes there were more classes to attend and receive individual attention.

But getting too much attention from a teacher can be a bad thing. It can lead to jealousy between girls who are favoured, and others who are left to dance in the background. Tencer says that it’s normal for there to be jealousy in a ballet company, but she admits that she’s very fortunate her students are respectful, instead of pushing each other with intimidation tactics. And since the incident over 20 years ago, ribbons on ballet slippers have stayed intact.

Later, the dancers saunter into the change room and sit down on blue mats. They help each other stretch while gossiping excitedly about the upcoming performance. Tencer puts on a fresh coat of red lipstick from her Hermès Birkin bag, as an older group of dancers in black leotards and colourful sweats enters the studio.  The music starts.

A slideshow featuring the talent of the Academy of Ballet and Jazz.

Uptown date hotspots

14 Apr

Toronto has so much to offer in terms of dining and entertainment.  But sometimes, it’s nice to stay close to home and rediscover what your area has to offer.

Lawrence Park and Leaside have so many great places for dates, and you won’t have to fight for parking spaces either. You can also be economical and walk to your destinations.  Share a romantic walk on a trail through Blythwood or Sherwood Park along the ravine (but remember to wear sensible shoes during the Springtime) or stroll through Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Toronto’s largest non-spooky graveyard.  Take a look at the map below for a trail suggestion (you can start your journey inside the beautifully kept gardens at Alexander Muir Memorial Gardens).  To keep track of your midtown hikes, download the My Tracks app for your Android smartphone.

If you’re in the mood for a slightly less active date, the area has many cute cafes and restaurants to offer.  La Boheme Cafe Patisserie is located at 2481 Yonge St., just north of Eglinton.  They serve te aro coffee, and their lattes are divinely crafted by French-speaking baristas.  Their desserts are delicate and savoury.  The atmosphere is calm and inviting, and you can easily spend a couple hours seated across your sweetheart as light from the streets and vintage chandeliers pours into this French cafe.

Latte from Cafe Boheme

If your sweet tooth is still aching, look no further than the uptown location of Dufflet at 2638 Yonge St.  Known as the Queen of cake, Dufflet offers an indulgent selection of rich cakes, meringue pies and tarts.  The back of the store has a floral department, so if you forget to buy flowers for an occassion, you can have a backup plan at the ready.

Cappuccino from Dufflet

Chocolate cake from Dufflet

Beyond scrumptious desserts, uptown has some serious fine dining experiences to offer.  Staples of the area include North 44 (owned by celebrity chef Marc McEwan) and Centro.  More exotic dining can be found at Amaya Indian Room at 1701 Bayview Ave., a couple blocks south of Eglinton.  The rich decor is complimented by the exotic flavours of the food.  Their butter chicken is delicious, and the beef vindaloo was tender, but too spicy, which took away from the flavour of the beef steak.

Naan and butter chicken at Amaya Indian Room

The beef vindaloo at Amaya Indian Room

Finish up your night with a lighter and healthier dessert that tastes like it came straight from Italy.  Hollywood Gelato has been a mainstay of the Leaside area for creating delicious and unique gelato flavours made from all natural ingredients.

Inside Hollywood Gelato

A variety of sorbet and gelato flavours can be found here

The key lime pie flavour is out of this world and will make you say, “Ciao Bella!”

Use this map to help plan your route uptown, and don’t forget, there are plenty of amazing shops in between.

Facebook linked to anorexia

21 Mar

Fashion magazines and the media have led many young women prone to developing body image issues and eating disorders.  A new study conducted by the University of Haifa suggests that Facebook might be a new culprit for low self-esteem.

Photo by Marco Paköeningrat

A press release on the study said, “The results showed that the more time girls spend on Facebook, the more they suffered conditions of bulimia, anorexia, physical dissatisfaction, negative physical self-image, negative approach to eating and more of an urge to be on a weight-loss diet. Extensive online exposure to fashion and music content showed similar tendencies, but manifested in fewer types of eating disorders.”

The study was conducted by professors Ruth Katz, Yael Latzer, and Zohar Spivak from the Faculty of Social Welfare and Health Sciences.  They examined how self-empowerment and exposure to the media affected 248 girls between the ages of 12 and 19 in developing eating disorders. 

Franca Sozzani is the editor in chief of Vogue Italia magazine, she blames Facebook and other websites and blogs as a rising reason behind eating disorders.  “The more time you spend logged in Facebook the more chance you have to become anorexic. Reading the article it looked like the social network was guilty of showing virtual role models that girls tend to imitate,” said Sozzani on her blog.

Kirov gives Portman a run for her money

8 Mar

The Mariinsky Ballet Theatre, otherwise known as the Kirov Ballet came to Toronto last week to dazzle audiences with their traditional interpretation of Marius Petipa’s Swan Lake.

As soon as the curtain opened, a beautiful set of the Royal court set the scene.  The jester stole the show as a quirky character, and showed his personality while dancing.  The pas de trois was a bit off, but that was the only instance of the evening.

Then came the swan queen.  Uliana Lopatkina was dazzling and graceful as ever. The “danse des cygnes” was beautifully executed with perfect footwork.  The most jaw-dropping part of the evening was the corps, comprised of 24 girls in fluffy white tutus performing as swans.

Lopatkina was delicate and fragile as white swan, but commanding and strong as Odile, especially in her coda.  The Kirov Ballet is revered for its technical prowess, and all the dancers were blessed with perfect feet with high arches and brilliant technical skill to match.

It was a privilege to watch Swan Lake performed with such perfection and attention to detail.  At the end, Odette’s last pas de deux was amazing to watch, and her feet even quivered in between turns like a real wounded, dying swan.

This traditional take on ballet’s old standby wasn’t stuffy or boring.  It was a testament to the art, beauty and grace of ballet brought to life by the world’s best company, bringing the audience to their feet in a standing ovation.


John Galliano suspended from Dior

25 Feb

John Galliano was suspended from his role as creative director at Christian Dior, because he was arrested yesterday night for making anti-semetic remarks, Reuters reports.

image from Frillr

The altercation occured last night, when Galliano affronted a couple in Paris’ Marais district.  Vogue is reporting that apparently his actions were entirely verbal, but fueled by alcohol.

“Dior affirms with the utmost conviction its policy of zero tolerance towards any anti-Semitic or racist words or behaviour,” said Dior CEO, Sidney Toledo.

Fashion’s notorious bad boy is showing his colours, after a relatively drama-free run at fashion house Dior.

According to an eye-witness, the altercation wasn’t as serious as it seemed.

“We had a table at La Perle and John Galliano sat next to us,” our eyewitness told us. “He spoke to a couple at a nearby table to say ‘Cheers’ and they insulted him. An argument started and the police came, so Galliano’s bodyguard suggested that they should go to the police station to sort it out. He wasn’t ‘busted’ aggressively by police, it was very quiet and peaceful. I definitely didn’t hear him say anything anti-Semitic, or against any religion, it was all very calm.”

Galliano was released by authorities this morning.

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Fear and pity galvanize readers

16 Feb

Fear and pity galvanize readers, says British journalist Brian Deer.  The MMR vaccine-austism hoax, a story of public interest was transformed into an easy story that dominated newspapers for over seven years.  

Deer recounted a story from the Daily Mail in 2000 about a girl who suffered from autism.  Deer said that for the parents “it was like living with the ghost of your dead child.”

These stories interest readers because they are emotional and inspire feelings of pity for the victims.  The MMR vaccine autism link builds fear in the public because of the obvious health concerns.  This winning combination made stories on MMR a high selling story. 

courtesy of Brian Deer

For over seven years in Britain, Deer investigated the Lancet study produced by Dr. Andrew Wakefield claiming that the MMR vaccine caused regressive autism and inflammatory bowel disease.  Deer conducted extensive research and found that there was no concrete scientific proof for the claims in the report.  He described his experience investigating the story to an audience at Ryerson on Wednesday.

The study by Wakefield was commissioned by a lawyer for around $750,000 US, who was planning a speculative lawsuit against the makers of the vaccine.  The misleading study created a mass hysteria and created a massive slump in vaccination rates.  The MMR debate created two stories in one, because the threat of measles was caused by the paranoia of getting vaccinated.  People were afraid, and the media continued to feature the pitiful victims.

Deer’s investigation found that the study was tampered and contrived.  The General Medical Council held the longest professional misconduct hearing, which lasted 217 days, and stripped Wakefield of his medical license.

“I think the role of the journalist is to test the evidence,” says Brian Deer.

Fashion journalism transitions into a new medium

9 Feb

Journalism is changing. Fashion journalism is no exception, and has been influenced by the internet and fashion blogs. This influence has altered the content and writing style of traditional fashion journalism and has hurt sales of print publications.

Photo by the Manchester City Library

“I browse a lot of the independent and amateur fashion blogs and online magazines but honestly? The ones I go to diligently, funnily enough, tend to be the blogs of the other big newspaper outlets,” says Nathalie Atkinson, style columnist and blogger for the National Post.

“Society doesn’t need newspapers. What we need is journalism,” said Clay Shirky, author of a blog that analyzes the internet media. What fashion needs is journalism as well. The internet might be flooded with amateur blogs, but traditional news sources have kept up with society and have established blogs with journalistic value.

Atkinson and readers like Dasha Nagorodnyuk, a Book and Media Studies student at the University of Toronto trust the blogs of reputable reporters because they have a combination of access and informed opinion.  “The established fashion critics have a certain level of expertise and technical knowledge …  And their writing is simply better,” adds Atkinson.

Our world does not read news in a traditional way anymore, and fashion is keeping up with this changing pace. Some blogs dare to do groundbreaking fashion reporting, while others reiterate what we already know.

YSL ad banned in the UK

9 Feb

This YSL ad, promoting classic fragrance, Belle d’Opium was banned in the UK, Perez Hilton reports. Apparently, 13 people called in to complain and the ad was pulled because it “simulated drug use”.

Model Melanie Thierry slithers around and dances in a grecian white gown.  Although her dancing is loose and a bit hypnotic, why would drug use would immediately come to mind to these 13 watchdogs?  If that’s the case, nearly every dance form would be “stimulating drug use”.

In response to the British Advertising Standards Agency’s decision, YSL said this:

“YSL Beauté is disappointed that the ASA has upheld the small number of complaints about this advertisement for Belle d’Opium. The advertisement was not intended to make any reference to drug culture, but to promote the sensuality and seductive qualities of the fragrance in keeping with the Opium brand, which was launched by Yves Saint Laurent over 30 years ago. Nonetheless, when the ASA told YSL that there had been some complaints about the advertisement, YSL, as a responsible advertiser, amended the advertisement in order to avoid any possible misinterpretation.”

It seems that this is just another case where an artistic vision has been compromised to appease such a small number of people.